A New Fund for Battling Cancer

Pathologists at Yale’s Central Tissue Resource Lab examine research specimens for the Yale Cancer Center.

In the first months of 2014, the Yale Cancer Center published a stunning series of new findings—the discovery of a gene expression regulator that causes the progression of breast cancer and its metastasis to the lung; the identification of a mechanism that promotes the spread of melanoma cells; and a successful transplant of human innate immune cells into mouse models, resulting in human immune function at a level never before seen.

Thomas J. Lynch, Jr. ’82, ’86 M.D., director of the Yale Cancer Center, notes that while funding from both public sources and private donors played a role in these discoveries, public funding is on the decline. “We are constantly challenged to find resources that will support basic research, translational medicine, and improved clinical care on the cutting edge,” he said. “Individual philanthropy is increasingly needed for the high-risk, high-reward projects that so often lead to breakthroughs.”

Now a new resource, the Yale Cancer Center Discovery Fund (YCCDF), is helping to secure such donor support. Based on a venture-philanthropy model, YCCDF leverages contributions to accelerate research with the most promising outcomes—namely, new therapies and cures for cancer.

Strategic giving

Among the inaugural donors to YCCDF are Charles W. Stiefel ’72 and his wife, Daneen C. Stiefel, who recently made a generous gift to the fund. Like many donors to the Yale Cancer Center, they know firsthand the challenges that patients and researchers face—Charles is a squamous cell carcinoma and thyroid cancer survivor who recently marked seven years cancer-free. He plans to join the YCCDF advisory board, which will hold its first meeting this fall.

Charles W. '72 and Daneen C. Stiefel

Already active as philanthropists, the couple has long supported medical initiatives through the Daneen and Charles Stiefel Charitable Foundation. “We seek to improve the quality of human life through targeted, strategic giving, and cancer research is our primary focus,” Charles said. “The Yale Cancer Center Discovery Fund offers a way to fast-track research that directly translates into positive outcomes for patients.”

A different approach to fighting cancer

YCCDF’s strategy is innovative: it aims to achieve measurable outcomes in cancer care, and its efforts are directly supported by individuals, like the Stiefels, who believe that this goal is an urgent priority. YCCDF board members will apply the competitive principles of capital investment to direct gifts to the most innovative and exciting projects.

The fund will catalyze the work of Yale’s world-class faculty, allowing them to expand their knowledge of the disease and ensure that cancer patients benefit from improved treatments as quickly as possible. Grants will be made in areas that increase basic understanding of cells and carcinogenesis, improve personalized medicine, facilitate the translation of basic discoveries into the clinic, and design and promote improved prevention strategies. YCCDF will also encourage collaboration across disciplines, including partnerships with outside institutions.

United efforts, bold research

The Yale Cancer Center’s mission spans fundamental cancer biology research, the development of better treatments, and excellent clinical care. Designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute, it fosters collaboration among Yale’s science departments, the Yale School of Medicine, and Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. These partnerships allow Yale Cancer Center access to some of the world’s top scientists and physicians.

“Today, new studies in tumor immunology, cancer genetics, and population science are increasing the scope of our programs,” Lynch said. “The Yale Cancer Center is building its resources with one goal in mind: to make advances that result in better outcomes for patients and their families.”

(August 6, 2014)

August 6, 2014